What to Do When You’re Away from WashU

When you’re in St. Louis in the midst of balancing course work and social events, it is easy to forget that summer is coming. Summer during your time as an undergraduate can mean a lot of different things. For some people, the summer months are a time to see family and enjoy the comforts of your home. For others, summer presents the opportunity for a job or an internship that hopefully sets you up for greater opportunities down the line. For still others, summer is the right time to go abroad for a few months. Each of these options has its benefits. Here’s why.

Sometimes you need a break. For some students, two semesters of challenging schedules and extracurricular demands can warrant a need for a few months of reprieve. Of course, this does not imply going home to forget everything you have learned. Instead, going home over the summer is usually an opportunity for a student to take a break from a demanding routine, reflect on the experiences of another school year, and decide what to prioritize moving forward. After my freshman year at WashU, I remember feeling overwhelmed with how much I had experienced. Getting a less demanding internship at home allowed me to spend much needed time with my family and to do some soul searching about my goals for college and beyond. If you never give yourself time to think about your endgame, chances are you’ll end up wandering through your four years of college without a clear idea of what you should be doing to create the best life for yourself. It’s time that you won’t get back, so using a summer to shape your intention can be equally as productive as a job somewhere far away. Even still…

The importance of a summer job or internship varies between majors and careers, but ultimately experience is always useful. You can start small by getting a job at home that may not be particularly relevant to your career or you can shoot for a position right in the midst of your desired field. If you are not sure where to look, or at least what kind of jobs to start with, make an appointment with your advisor and with the career center. Clarifying your interests and your skill sets before you start applying can help you create a list of opportunities that you will actually find interesting and potentially thrive in. There is a lot to be learned from a position that isn’t really your cup of tea, but better have a job that you like than one you don’t. It can even be helpful to try and find contacts in your home area. Showing an interest in your field in relation to where you live is never unappreciated. It’s also important to keep in mind that jobs are obviously always paid, while internships might not be. If you would need to commute or find a residence in another state, it may be worthwhile to look for positions with an actual salary. However, there are many, many worthwhile positions to be found in unpaid internships if you can afford to take them. Ultimately, if you have the energy and desire to take up a job or internship over the summer, you can come back from summer more prepared for future employment and with a clearer idea of what you are interested in moving forward.

Another possible option for summer break is choosing to go abroad. Although many students choose to study abroad for a whole semester or more (at WashU, students often go abroad during their junior year), it is also possible to find a program that takes place during the summer. This year, I am going to Oxford for 6 weeks during May and June. My major has a lot of required classes that make studying abroad a bit of a puzzle, so it became obvious that summer would be the best time for me to go. Summer study abroad can be a positive experience for a lot of reasons. You won’t be missing a whole semester at WashU and the programs are often shorter, giving you time for a job or internship for the rest of your break. As well, these programs can be a little less expensive and less demanding. If studying abroad over the summer sounds like a productive and worthwhile option for you, I’d recommend planning it out with the study abroad office as soon as possible. Their representatives are located in McMillan Hall and each of them specializes in the programs of a few different countries. Even if you’re on the fence about a summer abroad, I definitely recommend investigating the options available to you.

Ultimately, how to spend the summer is a very personal choice and there is no wrong answer. Many people are quick to say that a summer without a job is a wasted one, but they can forget all of the other factors that play into such a choice. No matter what your friends and peers are doing, it’s important to remember that your time is yours for a reason. You can’t let others dictate how you are going to spend three months. Just make sure you weigh your options, do your research, and be honest with yourself.